Brian Tee joins the cast of Jurassic World

Brian Tee in Universal Pictures' upcoming Hollywood blockbuster "Jurassic World" as Hamada. "He's head of security for the park that they've opened in the movie Jurassic World," said Tee.

Brian Tee in Universal Pictures’ upcoming Hollywood blockbuster “Jurassic World” as Katashi Hamada. “He’s head of security for the park that they’ve opened in the movie Jurassic World,” said Tee.

Korea Times (by Brian Han):

Actor Brian Tee is on his way back to the silver screen in Universal Pictures’ “Jurassic World” as Katashi Hamada, “a greying Japanese badass” according to a snapshot of the script from JurassicWorld.org.

As of late he has been playing significant roles in more and more blockbusters, but by no means is he even beginning to feel jaded.

For an artist, working on big budget films is like being on a playground,” Tee said with a grin. “Honestly, I feel like a kid again being in movies with dinosaurs and mutants with super powers.”

In fact, many of his roles resonate with fond childhood memories.

I grew up watching ‘Jurassic Park’,” the actor said. “And being a part of ‘The Wolverine’ brought back memories of Halloween when I was 10. I remember making my ‘Adamantium’ claws out of cardboard and aluminum foil.”

Actor Brian Tee on the set of Jurassic World, which was filmed in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu. (Twitter)

Actor Brian Tee on the set of Jurassic World, which was filmed in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu.

I think that’s just the nature of the business,” he explains. “You’re only really as good as your last job and as a result I’m not going to focus on some imaginary benchmark. With each role I want to grow, change and expand my skill set. I want to take on roles that matter and try to change the scope of Asian Americans in this industry especially. That’s my goal.”

Even with an increasingly impressive track record, Tee still doesn’t feel quite like he’s made it.

It’s a lofty one, but considering his background and experience, Tee seems like a fitting candidate to help reshape Hollywood’s sometimes outdated perception of Asian cultures in America.

The 37-year-old is of Korean and Japanese descent and takes advantage of his familiarity with both cultures to expand his repertoire of roles.

In my 15 year career so far, I’ve played characters that are Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, Chinese and so on,” Tee said. “I fully understand that each Asian culture offers something unique and that in some cases there are overlapping and conflicting histories. In America, Asian Americans certainly have a voice and if we can somehow make it much more united I think we would all be better off. I’m a perfect example of two cultures that traditionally do not get along with each other and I’m just a blend of the two.”

This ideology may be a bit too forward-thinking for older or more traditional demographics as illustrated by Korea’s and Japan’s lasting tensions over the latter’s controversial World War II practices, but his point is that there’s an attainable middle ground especially in the context of a modern day U.S.

When I was growing up in Hacienda Heights [L.A. County], I had Korean friends, Chinese friends, Japanese friends, Mexican friends, black and white friends,” recalls Tee. “Maybe that’s just the culture of the suburb, but we all just grew up together and had fun together and that was it. That’s just the reality I was presented with as a kid and so I believe it can work on a larger scale.”

Despite his melting pot American upbringing, Tee was born in Okinawa, Japan as Jae-bum Takata — a combination of traditional Korean and Japanese names.

He knew that tension was supposed to exist between the two cultures, but never really experienced it growing up.

Brian Tee as Chinese American hitman Chaoz in the Korean film "No Tears for the Dead" (Courtesy of CJ Entertainment)

Brian Tee as Chinese American hitman Chaoz in the Korean film “No Tears for the Dead”

I knew it existed,” Tee explains. “I always felt like I was a special case. My mom was very open minded. She was a reporter for some Korean news agency. They ousted her from reporting in the Vietnam War because she was a woman so she left for Okinawa to pursue her work and her artistry.”

His father was born in the states and went to Lincoln High School in Los Angeles.

I think he felt less exposed to the traditional cultural conflict so that’s why it worked and they fell in love,” Tee said.

As for his given last name, Takata, Tee recalls an interesting confrontation right after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley as a theater major that led him to change it to something more culturally ambiguous.

It happened when I was first starting out and this is a time when actors usually try anything and everything,” he said. “There was this student film with a Korean director. He was asking for people to come in and read for a Korean character. He looked at my resume and sees the last name Takata then says, ‘You’re not Korean.’”

After feeling a bit taken aback, Tee tried to explain why he would be a good fit regardless of his name.

I’m half-Korean, my Korean mom had a strong presence in my life and I understand Korean culture,” he told the director. “I mean, this character’s supposed to be Korean American anyway and I grew up in L.A.”

Brian Tee in "No Tears for the Dead" (Courtesy of CJ Entertainment)

Brian Tee in “No Tears for the Dead”

Tee was asked to leave the audition without a chance to show what he could offer. It was of no use.

It seemed that if a college student was going to reject him based on a name, he might as well make some changes in case he ran into any similar issues in the future.

I changed it so I could give myself more opportunities,” Tee explained. “I didn’t want to be prejudged prior to showing my skills just because of a name. It was mostly a career move.”

Fittingly enough, there is now a demand for the actor in the Korean film industry.

He most recently took on a lead role alongside well-known Korean actor Jang Dong-gun in Lee Jeong-bum’s 2014 feature film “No Tears for the Dead.”

I’m a huge fan of Korean cinema so it was an honor to work with those guys and it was such an amazing experience,” Tee said. “There were a lot of translators on set, but I’m proficient in Korean so I could understand about 70 percent of what they were saying. We all spoke pretty freely. It never felt like it slowed down the process.”

Although there are many differences between how Hollywood and Korean film productions operate, one quality stands out in Tee’s mind.

For some reason there is still this old school idea in Hollywood, which is changing, that portrays Asian males as reserved, never showing emotion, and that’s good for certain situations and character types,” he said. “But after awhile it becomes a caricature.”

After venturing outside of the world’s entertainment capital, Tee found a creative freedom that he couldn’t elsewhere.

Korean cinema is the exact opposite of that,” he says in comparing the two industries. “They want you to emote and express and feel. It’s shown throughout a lot of their work, and audiences respond to that. Hopefully that will transfer into Hollywood and it already has on some level.

Tee continues to spread this progressive attitude through his work and that’s good news considering that he feels his acting career is just starting to blossom.

I really and truly love acting,” Tee said as he reflected on his career. “If it’s one thing I can tell other aspiring actors is that you need to love it, love it more than anything. I don’t say that lightly because there are so many pitfalls, rejections and disappointments and it’s that love that pushes you to stick with your craft. I think I can say I’ve lived that and I still am. I feel like my career is starting to hit its stride and we’ll see where that takes me.”

Could a ratings system improve the Chinese film and television industry?

A publicity photo handout for the TV drama Empress of China, which was censored to crop out any regions below women’s necks with exposed cleavage.

ChinaFile:

It all started with plunging necklines. After the sudden withdrawal and subsequent sanitizing of a popular Chinese show, viewers in China have renewed longstanding calls to strip government censors of their power, using one simple solution: a ratings system for television and film. Shortly after its December 21 premier, the series Empress of China rose to swift popularity on the shoulders of beautiful women in expensive period costumes featuring abundant décolletage. But the series was yanked from airwaves shortly after its debut, only to return on January 1 with a glaring lack of cleavage; censors had replaced the more revealing scenes with close-ups cropping out any region below women’s necks. The outcry and downright mockery that resulted says much about why Chinese entertainment continues to fall short of its massive potential.

Soon after Empress‘s inglorious return to the small screen, Chinese social media demanded the original’s return. They argued that low-cut garments were true to the history of that period. They complained the revised show comprised so many head-shots that it might as well be called “The Legend of Empress Big Head.” They posted satirical images of other movies, photographs, and works of art similarly cropped to ridiculous effect, including the Mona Lisa, the statue Venus de Milo, and the former Communist strongman Mao Zedong. Media outlet Sina Entertainment reported on January 5 that viewership has slipped since its post-censorship return to the airwaves, jeopardizing the big-budget show’s profitability.

 

Chinese authorities issued no statement explaining their rationale, but they likely believed Empress to be too salacious for younger viewers. If that were the case, it would have sufficed to rate the series for mature audiences—except China has no such system. A widely read January 3 blog post on Hong Kong-based Phoenix Media explained official refusal to implement a ratings system this way:

Officials believe that “if people are exposed to elegant things, they will become elegant; if they are unable to view vulgar things, they will be cut off from vulgarity.” By contrast, “With a ratings system, there will be both elegant and vulgar things, and ignorant people cannot help but choose what is vulgar.”

The author of the post rejected that logic, positing that a “cultural products rating system” was the only way to resolve the contradiction between “creative freedom” and limits to what some might be able to see.

On January 5, even state news agency Xinhua chimed in. The incident demonstrated that “China’s television and film management process is insufficient,” the Xinhua article asserted, adding that “experts” recommended the immediate adoption of a ratings system in order to “give television market management a ‘law’ to rely upon”—an invocation of the Communist Party’s recent rhetorical emphasis on rule by law. Some were less circumspect. “This whole thing is one big joke,” commented one user of Weibo, China’s largest micro-blogging platform. “The fundamental cause is that our country doesn’t have a television ratings system.”

China’s government has thus far been unwavering. The Xinhua article was later removed, though it can still be viewed on other websites. The adoption of film and television ratings has long been a hot topic in China, so much so that in August 2010, the powerful State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) felt compelled to reject the proposals. And though Chinese netizens have continued to push for a ratings system, no system has yet been adopted. The official argument against a film and television rating system—that it is not “suited” to China because it can not guarantee youth would not be exposed to inappropriate materials—has irked people for years. A popular June 2011 post on discussion forum Zhihu criticized the government’s desire to control even the possibility of young people’s exposure to sexually explicit material. “The Chinese film market is the fastest growing in the world,” the author wrote. “Whether or not to adopt a rating system shouldn’t even be a point of discussion.” Without ratings, and the resulting market segmentation that in turn drives investment and creates a strong business environment, “Chinese movies cannot experience a true artistic and business boom.”

For now, works produced in the West, not to mention the relatively tiny South Korea, continue to outshine Chinese efforts. “Works that are appropriate for everyone are rarely good,” declared Bi Xiaozhe, a prolific editorialist, in a January 5 op-ed syndicated in government mouthpiece People’s Daily. Bi acknowledged that the re-launchedEmpress of China was “now ‘appropriate for all audiences,’” but said “it has also lost its edge.” If classical Western art had to “avoid sex as well as the female body,” Bi asked, “would they still have become classics that have kept their appeal for hundreds or even thousands of years?” To leave a space for the creation of high-quality works—while also satisfying worried parents—China should “emulate the ratings model of Western countries.”

A popular January 6 essay on Weibo titled “Why do Korean Movies Completely Blow Chinese Movies Out of the Water?” partly attributed the success of Korean movies and dramas—hugely popular in China and throughout Asia—to South Korea’s own film and television ratings system. Allowing creators to work “completely without interference,” the author wrote, encourages private investment and drives competition. (For curious readers, a January 4 Sina article estimated what rating the uncut Empress of China might receive elsewhere: TV-PG or perhaps TV-14 in the United States; “15” in South Korea, and an outright ban from Saudi Arabian television.)

However sensible a Chinese ratings system may seem, censors wield the power to pick winners and losers in a massive market, and they are unlikely to part with that authority easily. Until that time, grassroots Chinese will continue to chortle at what they see as SAPPRFT’s prudishness, and imagine a Chinese film and television renaissance that still feels too far away.

New York Korean Film Festival

Co-presented by The Korea Society and Subway Cinema, the New York Korean Film Festival returns on November 20—23 to BAMcinématek with the freshest crop of record-breaking blockbusters and must-see recent works by the peninsula’s most celebrated auteurs and mavericks.

As an extension of the festival, DramaFever will host additional films streaming online.

KAFFNY started in 2006 as a vehicle for bringing filmmakers to audiences. The focus is to highlight existing connections and relationships between diverse peoples, using our perspective only as a starting point.

 

Presenting:

Gyeongju

Thu, Nov 20, 2014 (7:15pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 145min
FORMAT: DCP
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)

 

A Hard Day

Fri, Nov 21, 2014 (9:40pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 111min
FORMAT: DCP
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Sat, Nov 22, 2014 (6:45pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 108min
FORMAT: DCP
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)
Man On High Heels

Sat, Nov 22, 2014 (9:30pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 125min
FORMAT: Digital
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)
 The Pirates

Sun, Nov 23, 2014 (4:45pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 130min
FORMAT: Digital
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)
Futureless Things

Sun, Nov 23, 2014 (7:30pm)
LOCATION:
Peter Jay Sharp Building
BAM Rose Cinemas
RUN TIME: 107min
FORMAT: DCP
GENERAL ADMISSION: $14
CINEMA CLUB MEMBERS: $9 (Movie Moguls free)
SENIORS/STUDENTS/VETERANS: $10 (Students 29 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)